Syndrome, cyclic vomiting: A syndrome characterized by episodes, bouts, or cycles of severe nausea and vomiting that last for hours or even days and alternate with longer asymptomatic periods (with no symptoms). The cause of the syndrome is unknown. Each episode is similar to previous ones and tends to start at about the same time of day, last the same length of time, and present the same symptoms at the same level of intensity. Episodes of CVS can be so severe that a person may have to stay in bed for days, unable to go to school or work. Because other common diseases and disorders can also cause cycles of vomiting, people with the syndrome may initially be misdiagnosed.
Age of onset: Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) affects children more often than adults. It starts most commonly between ages 3 and 7. In adults, episodes tend to occur less often but last longer than in children and the events that trigger episodes in adults cannot be pinpointed as easily as they can in children.
Phases of the syndrome: CVS has four phases:
Triggers: Most people can identify a specific condition or event that triggered an episode. The most common trigger is an infection. Another, often found in children, is emotional stress or excitement, from a birthday or vacation, for example. Colds, allergies, sinus problems, and the flu may also set off episodes.
Symptoms: The main symptoms are severe vomiting, nausea, and retching (gagging). Episodes usually begin at night or first thing in the morning and may include vomiting or retching up to five or six times an hour during the worst of the episode. Episodes usually last anywhere from 1 to 4 days, though they can last for up to 10 days. Other symptoms include pallor, exhaustion, and listlessness. Sometimes the nausea and vomiting are so severe that a person appears to be almost unconscious. Sensitivity to light, headache, fever, dizziness, diarrhea, and abdominal pain may also accompany an episode.
The vomiting may cause drooling and excessive thirst. Drinking water usually leads to more vomiting, though the water can dilute the acid in the vomit, making the episode a little less painful. Continuous vomiting can lead to dehydration, which means that the body has lost excessive water and salts.
Diagnosis: CVS is hard to diagnose because there are no tell-tale tests to identify the condition. The diagnosis depends upon looking at the symptoms and medical history and by excluding more common diseases or disorders that can also cause nausea and vomiting. Diagnosis takes time because the a pattern or cycle to the vomiting has to be identified.
Relation to migraine: The precise relationship between migraine and CVS is still unclear but the two are believed to be related because:
Because of the similarities between migraine and CVS, some people with severe CVS are treated with drugs that are also used for migraine headaches. The drugs are designed to prevent episodes, reduce their frequency, or lessen their severity.
Treatment: CVS cannot be cured. Treatment varies, but people with CVS are generally advised to get plenty of rest; sleep; and take medications that prevent a vomiting episode, stop or alleviate one that has already started, or relieve other symptoms. Once a vomiting episode begins, treatment is supportive. It helps to stay in bed and sleep in a dark, quiet room. Severe nausea and vomiting may require hospitalization and intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration. Sedatives may help if the nausea continues.
During the prodrome phase, it is sometimes possible to stop an episode from happening altogether. For example, people who feel abdominal pain before an episode can ask their doctor about taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to try to stop it. Other medications that may be helpful are ranitidine (Zantac) or omeprazole (Prilosec), which help calm the stomach by lowering the amount of acid it makes.
During the recovery phase, drinking water and replacing lost electrolytes are very important. Electrolytes are salts that the body needs to function well and stay healthy. Symptoms during the recovery phase can vary: Some people find that their appetites return to normal immediately, while others need to begin by drinking clear liquids and then move slowly to solid food.
Prevention: People whose episodes are frequent and long-lasting may be treated during the symptom-free intervals in an effort to prevent or ease future episodes. Medications that help people with migraine headaches -- propranolol, cyproheptadine, and amitriptyline -- are sometimes used during this phase, but they do not work for everyone. Taking the medicine daily for 1 to 2 months may be necessary to see if it helps.
The symptom-free phase is a good time to eliminate anything known to trigger an episode. For example, if episodes are brought on by stress or excitement, this period is the time to find ways to reduce stress and stay calm. If sinus problems or allergies cause episodes, those conditions should be treated.
Complications: The severe vomiting that defines CVS is a risk factor for several complications:
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